March 10, 2009

Wyden Seeks USDA Inspectors for Rural Oregon to Help Cattlemen, Increase Food Safety

While most cattle are raised in eastern and southern Oregon most USDA inspectors are located in western Oregon

Washington, D.C. - In an effort to reduce transportation costs and increase food safety, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden today asked the Secretary of Agriculture to place meat inspectors in Oregon cattle country in a move that would allow ranchers to stabilize their businesses and expand their markets.

"Currently, most cattle are raised in eastern and southern Oregon, while USDA inspectors are located in western Oregon," Wyden said in a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "This situation has created an additional hardship on Oregon cattlemen at a time when the economy is making cattle ranching difficult enough."

Wyden said that for small and mid-sized Oregon producers, the lack of regional USDA inspection services requires shipping live cattle by truck hundreds of miles across Oregon and across state lines to obtain USDA inspection and certification. He cited Carman Ranches near Joseph, Oregon, which is forced to transport cattle three hours one-way to get USDA inspection for their grass-fed beef. The owners of Carman Ranches estimate that the transportation and staff time adds 30 percent to their overall production and sales costs.

"This experience is not unusual," Wyden wrote. "In a producer study conducted by Oregon State University's Food Innovation Center, 32 percent of respondents reported traveling more than 150 miles one-way."

Wyden said that local USDA inspectors would not only reduce transportation costs, but would allow local producers to expand their markets by selling certified, inspected beef to locally to schools and at farmer's markets.

"There is no better time to deal with the lack of USDA inspectors in Oregon cattle country," Wyden wrote. "Cattle ranchers have indicated to me their willingness to contribute to the costs of local or regional inspections. And, as you have indicated publicly, the costs in terms of public health risks and industry risks are just too high when we fail to provide appropriate and adequate inspections."

(Additional contacts: Curtis Martin, Baker County Livestock Association and Oregon Cattlemen's Association, 541-962-9269 (cell); Bill Moore, president of the Oregon Cattlemen's Association, 541-446-3321 (home) and 208-739-1595 (cell). Cory Carman, Carman Ranches, 541-263-0812 (cell)